In Austin we are constantly in awe of our big skies and even bigger vistas. The sky at this time of year is particularly spectacular, with an atmospheric phenomenon known locally as the ‘Violet Crown’ bathing the city in a lilac haze. Occurring before sunrise or after sunset at civil twilight, it extends roughly 10–20° above the horizon, appearing to cloak the observer in its ethereal glow. Earning Austin the nickname ‘The City of the Violet Crown’, it was first mentioned in 1890 but is often attributed to O. Henry, who referred to it as such in his story, ‘Tictocq: The Great French Detective, In Austin’. Published in his collection of short stories The Rolling Stone in 1894, O. Henry wrote:
‘The drawing-rooms of one of the most magnificent private residences in Austin are ablaze of lights. Carriages line the streets in front, and from gate to doorway is spread a velvet carpet, on which the delicate feet of the guests may tread. The occasion is the entrée into society of one of the fairest buds in the City of the Violet Crown.’
The expression actually refers to the phenomenon more commonly known as the Belt of Venus, visible in countries as far apart as Austria and Namibia. The name emanates from Venus, the Roman goddess of victory, love, pleasure and fertility. Its ‘belt’ of glowing light is thought to emit a more vivid pink hue in winter, fading to a softer glow in the summer months which can appear pink, purple, orange or even yellow.
Whatever you call it, there’s no denying the beauty of a big sky. We hope that wherever you are, the sky puts on a show for you tonight.
Illustrations by Kathy Phan
Kathy Phan is a pet portrait, illustration, and letter artist based in Austin, Texas. Her @kathyphantastic products include watercolor pet portraits, pet portraits on ceramics, paper goods, stickers, and magnets.